by Chuck English

Recent studies make it clear that marketing Jewish day schools – particularly those that are non-orthodox, is perhaps more challenging than ever. So, after directing the marketing and communications activity of Associated Hebrew Schools in Toronto for the past six years, I gave some thought to what has accounted for our success. Here, then are my six pillars of successful Jewish day school marketing.

It all starts with numbers. Even the most creative marketing efforts won’t be effective without a wide array of reliable data. You need a demographic and attitudinal profile of parents – current, new and prospective. You need to know what’s going on in your catchment area in terms of real estate and business. It’s important that you do your own surveys and access other available research. All of this will allow you to more accurately put yourself in the shoes of prospective parents and develop positioning and messaging that hits the mark.

Fish where the fish are. Let’s face it – not every parent considering a Jewish day school is going to be interested in yours. Wide-net techniques like advertising in high circulation newspapers are expensive and often ineffective when you’re really interested in a very narrow target. Once you‘ve determined the profile of the prospective parent that is most likely to choose your school, figure out where to find them. Use mail drops to particular postal areas, advertising or presentations aimed at specific synagogues or other communal organizations, create cooperative opportunities with local businesses or service providers. Make sure you have the right online presence. The more laser-like your targeting is, the more results you will see.

Think outside in. Education is one of those fields where it’s easy to fall into professional patter that most parents don’t understand. Differentiation is an example of a word that most people can define (sort of) but few can apply in an educational context. Yes, prospective parents want educators to be experts but they need to be able to understand them. The key is to use plain language in your materials and presentations. More importantly, remember that the heart rules the head in most (if not all) decisions. You need to evoke emotional responses through images and words that speak to what parents really want for their children.

Your parents are customers. Think Zappos or Starbucks and provide your parents with an outstanding consumer experience. They are paying a lot of money to send their kids to your school and they have choices. This presents unique challenges in an educational setting because the product can’t always conform to the desires of your customers. There has to be integrity to the educational product and experience. But parents can still feel like their voice is being heard if the outcome isn’t the one they wanted. Respect and responsiveness must still be the basis of all communication. Every interaction with a parent – in the front office, in the classroom, in the tuition office, in every email or letter and e-newsletter, must let parents know how much they are valued and appreciated. Perhaps more importantly, there needs to be multiple channels – both online and off – that allow parents use to provide opinions.

Constantly collaborate. Educators and administrators must be strategic partners. Meet with Principals and Vice Principals often and involve them in marketing planning and decision-making. The truth is that the educational staff determines the nature and the quality of the product and your job is to put the fruit of their efforts on a pedestal. They can be the source of great ideas and provide outstanding marketing content and events. Administrators have daily contact with parents and frequently speak to colleagues in other schools. They are invaluable sources of information. Your marketing efforts won’t be nearly as effective without them.

Multiple entry points. The more opportunities that you can provide for parents and their children to be in your school, the more likely it is they will enroll. Open houses, information sessions and tours are obvious. But you can also offer holiday themed activity programs (think Chanukah or Purim) for children (who are not yet students) lectures for parents and community programs. Make your school available to scout troops or allow providers of extra curricular classes (dance, karate, music) to use the facility. Just walking trough he halls of a Jewish day school evokes emotions and gives a parents a sense of what is going on in the school. Many parents are intimidated by the concept of Jewish day school. Showing them that they can feel comfortable in the building is an important first step in breaking down barriers.

Admittedly, these are high level principles and there are to-do lists that must be spun out of each of them. However, I believe they are a meaningful starting point and will improve the success of any Jewish day school marketing initiative.

Through English Marketing Works, Chuck English provides marketing and communications services to philanthropies, independent schools and businesses.

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